Michigan has the third-lowest spending level on capital investment -- roads, bridges, water and sewer, rail and airline transportation facilities -- of all 50 states

No Time for a Victory Lap

by Ron Koehler  

Michigan residents hoping to learn more about Gov. Snyder's education agenda didn't get much to chew on in his seventh, and penultimate, State of the State address.

No sneak preview of recommendations from his 21st Century Commission on Education, but the governor said he was eager -- as we all are -- to learn its recommendations, even as the state is tasked with totally revamping its accountability system by midyear to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

On ESSA, the governor has been relatively silent, leaving to the Michigan Department of Education the task of drafting a plan intended to guide education for the better part of the next decade. Nor did he say anything about his plan to address schools that fail to meet state performance mandates, even as the chair of the Senate Education Committee opened the new legislative session by saying the current system is broken and needs to be totally redesigned.

The governor did talk about infrastructure. He took a small bow for the state's response to the Flint water crisis, vowed to do more, and said our crumbling infrastructure statewide will require billions in investments -- the findings of another 21st century commission -- to resolve. There was no mention of how Michigan might tackle this problem, no funding source, no challenge to a Legislature that opened its session with a proposal to eliminate the income tax -- which produces one-third of all tax revenues collected in the state -- to come up with a solution.

Just a day after the governor referenced the findings of his 21st Century Commission on Infrastructure, they were affirmed by Dan Seymour, a top executive of Moody's Investment Service, speaking to a forum hosted by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Michigan Bankers Association.

The reason for the infrastructure deficit? Almost no investment during the 21st century.

"Michigan's investment in capital assets is lower than almost any other state," Seymour told forum participants. He noted Michigan has the third-lowest spending level on capital investment -- roads, bridges, water and sewer, rail and airline transportation facilities -- of all 50 states.

Education Investment a Must

Education is infrastructure too, as a skilled workforce and a college-educated populace is the surest path to success in this century. We've reported before on the well-documented shortfalls in state funding, with per-pupil expenditures falling $1,200 below cost of living increases since the start of this century, and Michigan's students falling to the bottom quartile of achievement among the states.

The governor did celebrate the restoration of about two-thirds of the more than 800,000 jobs lost in Michigan in the past 16 years, and he noted that per-capita income, which had fallen precipitously since 2000, was now inching upward.

We've sent some outstanding legislators to Lansing in recent years. Several have valuable business experience. All should know that you cannot grow a business -- or most anything else -- without investment. Our investments this century have come in the form of givebacks. We handed out billions in tax credits to keep businesses in Michigan during our single-state recession and through the national "great" recession.

This governor ended those tax credits but reduced business taxes by $1.7 billion in 2011 through the elimination of the Michigan Business Tax. Since, Michigan has refunded more in tax credits to businesses than it has collected. The Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference in January reported the state netted $40 million in business taxes in 2016 after paying out $880 million in tax credits.

The job and personal income growth celebrated by the governor will be short-lived if our policy makers do not start investing in education -- our talent supply chain -- and the infrastructure necessary to freely move goods and services throughout the state and into Canada, our largest trading partner.

Gov. Snyder, this is no time for a victory lap. As those of us who watch football and basketball know, most games are won in the fourth quarter. Yes, that's contrary to conventional political wisdom, which suggests an elected official without the opportunity for re-election is a lame duck.

That may be true, but strange things happen in the lame-duck session of the Legislature. You may not be able to convince the Legislature to pass your priorities as a governor who is playing out the last days of your second term, but you can use the bully pulpit of the governor's office to tell it like it is.

Someone needs to do so, and it may as well be you.

Submitted on: January 25th 2017

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